It’s not a challenge to see that there is a lack of diversity among the staff and faculty at Springfield College. Staff meetings tend to be pretty white.
If the ‘eye-test’ isn’t enough, there’s numerical stats (per the Springfield College Fact Book) to back up the theory: in the 2015-16 school year, 84.8 percent of the faculty is white, while black (4.8 percent), Asian (2.8 percent) and Hispanic (3.8 percent) trail by a sizeable amount.
This isn’t a problem just facing Springfield College, however. Many colleges and universities are struggling to employ faculty members of color, as Springfield College’s Vice President of Inclusion and Community Engagement Calvin Hill explained.
“When you look at higher education in general, there’s not an overwhelming sense of diversity,” Hill said. Part of the issue he said is that not a lot of people of color have the luxury of acquiring the academic qualifications. “Specifically when you look at the time and energy that it takes to getting a doctoral degree…that’s certainly one area.”
Hill continued by saying that one of the problems in attracting candidates of color is that there is not a sufficiently diverse faculty community to join.
“We have to think about a draw to the community,” Hill explained. “You need to build a critical mass. That’s just not simply here at Springfield College either, but in Springfield as a whole, and perhaps even this northeastern corridor of individuals with diverse backgrounds.”
Reasons aside, Hill still maintains that, “We need to a better job on the campus and in the city as a whole of attracting and retaining minority candidates.”
While that isn’t a process which can be accomplished overnight, the wheels are in motion for Springfield to fix up its recruiting process. On November 10 of this year, Hill released his five-point plan detailing the priorities and goals for the campus from an inclusion standpoint. Of the 11 focus groups involved in the plan, one is solely dedicated the recruitment and retention of faculty members. The main ideas revolve around where Springfield College is recruiting, how it’s recruiting, and the demographics it’s recruiting.
“We’re asking ourselves several questions: where are we advertising for our positions, first and foremost. We want to make sure that we’re reaching out and connecting with the best and brightest out there. My focus is that we reach out to the best and brightest minority candidates.”
Hill explained that a huge part of attracting candidates is selling what Springfield has to offer. Not only is it close in location to both New York City, Boston and Hartford, downtown Springfield itself is under a process of innovation and change.
Springfield College of course is centered on the idea of spirit, mind and body. This has a large role in the recruitment strategy of candidates of color.
“What does that mean to a minority faculty member coming in? When I teach a course, it may be very different coming from an African American male with a PHD from a historically black college. My framework may be a little bit different. So we need to make sure we’re evaluating the framework and the ideals of a minority candidate, and how does their research interest play into what we as a college have to offer?” Hill explained.
As Rebecca Lartigue, a professor of English at Springfield College, explained, the school doesn’t hire new faculty often, and when professors of color are looking for potential jobs, they seek a diverse student body to educate, another area in which Springfield College falters.
“You kind of have a chicken-and-the-egg kind of problem” Lartigue said. “Diverse faculty want to reach diverse students, and diverse students need a diverse faculty. It’s a scenario where both need to be fixed at the same time. I believe the school is working on it, but it’s a gradual process. Opportunities to increase the diversity come up rarely, so it’s always going to be a slow and gradual process.”
While Hill has looked at ways to improve the diversity of the faculty, he’s also looking for ways to improve the learning experience of a diverse student body. For students of color to come in and be able to see a professor similar to them leading a class, it works almost as a role model.
“It’s a value to a student with a diverse background to have that connection, and to be able to strive to be like that person in front of them,” Hill said. “But it helps a majority student, too. A minority professor can share that diverse perspective with them.”
When it comes to the recruitment of prospective students, work is being done to make the Springfield College student body more diverse. Hill wants to start running a Spanish-speaking tour once a week on campus for incoming students or family members who struggle with the English language.
“I think it’s a missed opportunity,” Lartigue explained in regards to the lack of diversity in the faculty and student level. “Any time a campus is homogenous, or too similar with political views or even gender, diversity of thought should be one of the goals in college. Diversity of race, ethnicity and social class are huge parts of the learning environment.”
With Hill’s five-point plan in place and a growing focus of race and diversity on the campus, talks of diversifying the faculty and student body have grown.
“It’s been a process we’ve been trying to work on for a number of years,” Hill said. “But unfortunately it’s a very slow process.”